University of Manchester Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell in meeting with students

University of Manchester tells students “contract is to deliver a degree” – not an education

In an open meeting this afternoon, a University of Manchester (UoM) Vice-President, Professor Clive Agnew, told stunned students that the University is obligated to provide them “with a degree,” rather than a complete education.

Students were fielding questions to a panel comprised of UoM Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell, alongside Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Luke Georghiou, and Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students, Professor Clive Agnew.
(pictured from right to left above)

When asked by a student about the University’s perceived failure to deliver a satisfactory education, Professor Agnew stated: “We have taken advice on this and the contract is to deliver a degree, that is the focus.”

A further shout of “Not an education?” was ignored, as the panel hurridly attempted to shift focus.


Independent Adjudicator Strike Compensation

Independent Adjudicator confirms students set for strike compensation

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education have issued a briefing note, in which they encourage students to make formal complaints in order to secure compensation for disruption caused by the recent UCU strikes.

The impact of the strike action has varied by course and university. Whilst some students have missed only one or two scheduled sessions, others have had this semester entirely disrupted.

However, you should be eligible for some compensation even if you were not significantly affected. See below for how to start this process.

The Independent Adjudicator have detailed some of the factors they will consider when awarding compensation, including “the potential difference in value of final year teaching compared to first year teaching.”


The University of Manchester lies to its students

The breifing note issued is in stark contrast to a statement offered by University of Manchester (UoM) spokesperson Michael Greenhalgh before the Easter break, in which the university played dumb about their obligations regarding compensation.

Michael told students in March it would be “virtually impossible” to calculate compensation for missed teaching. However, the Independent Adjudicator awards compensation from universities (including UoM!) to thousands of students each year, and confirm in their briefing note that many of these are about teaching that has not been delivered.


University of Manchester withhold tuition fees

UoM students withhold tuition fees until UCU strike compensation agreed

Students at the University of Manchester have organised a collective non-payment of tuition fees, until an agreement is reached with university management for compensation following the ongoing industrial action by the UCU. Students involved in the movement to withhold tuition fees are also following the university’s formal complaints procedure, allowing compensation claims to be escalated to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator should the complainants remain unsatisfied.

The non-payment action is being organised through Facebook group ‘Last instalment withholding MA,’ with over 100 students currently taking part.

Postgraduates to withhold tuition fees

Postgraduate students pay tuition fees directly from their own bank accounts, and many have now cancelled the direct debit authorisation allowing the university to take the final instalment due in May. Students are set to withhold tuition fees payments of over £3,000, with the University of Manchester charging some of the highest fees for Masters courses in the UK.

The vast majority of the students affected fully support the plight of striking staff, placing the blame for the disruption with university management and Universities UK, responsible for the disputed USS pension scheme changes being challenged by the UCU. Likewise, lecturers are generally supportive of student action, with some reportedly encouraging their students to withhold tuition fees.

Cancelling the University’s direct debit authorisation can be done in seconds using online banking. This is touted as a relatively risk-free method of applying pressure on the university management, as it merely revokes the university’s ability to take money directly from students’ bank accounts. A late payment fee of £25 is not charged until the tuition fees become overdue in two months time, and is proportionally insignificant for those intending to withhold tuition fees of over £3,000.

Whilst UoM can prevent students from graduation until any tuition fees are paid, it is widely hoped the issue will be resolved long before Masters students are due to graduate this December.

Those students that intend to withhold tuition fees are asked to add their name here, allowing the scale of this collective action to be tracked.

Many students on Masters courses have suffered severe disruption to their second and final taught semester, with minimal, if any, timetabled sessions being held over four weeks. The remaining two weeks of teaching, following the three week Easter break, could also face disruption as UCU prepare up to another 19 days of strike action over April and May. Students have complained of being left with no communication from academics, including their dissertation supervisors, with union members continuing industrial action strictly ‘working-to-contract’ in addition to annual leave over Easter.


UCU Strike Compensation: Empty Pockets Sign

Postgraduates: withhold tuition fee payments & follow official complaint procedures

Full time masters students have missed a significant amount of our degree courses due to the four weeks of UCU strike action. Depending how weekly timetables aligned with strike action, some students have missed almost the entirety of four weeks taught sessions. Most modules have covered only the first introductory weeks, and are now left with only a couple of sessions post-strike. Continued ‘work-to-rule’ action understandably carried out by UCU is compounding this impact, as is the decision taken in some modules to resume teaching as scheduled with no consideration to missed content. This has decimated the learning experience of Semester 2, and whilst I hope the effect on academic progression will be minimised, the detriment to our overall experience at masters level has been substantial.

In this post I will set out two actions that should have an impact; cancelling direct debits for tuition fee payments, and following your university’s formal complaint procedures. I fully support the staff that are striking, and applying this pressure to the university management surely supports their cause. I know many lecturers have encouraged students to complain to university management since the strikes began, so even if you can’t be bothered cancelling your direct debit or even making an official complaint, please support the staff that work to support you by emailing that address and making your feelings known.

University of Manchester students: This is an improved version of a post I made in the excellent ‘Take Action! UoM‘ Facebook group this morning. They have loads of great material, including templates to apply for mitigating circumstances for this semester’s assigned work. They are holding a meeting this Thursday at 6pm, Squirrels Bar, Owen’s Park Campus, Fallowfield. There is also a dedicated group for those intending to withhold their final instalment that has been started today, who have been kind enough to add me as a group admin.

Whilst undergraduates cannot withhold tuition fee payments made directly to the university from student finance, they can still take advantage of the official complaints procedure, so please encourage any undergraduate housemates etc to do so. I intend to write a follow up post aimed at undergraduates soon.

Withholding tuition fee payments until UCU strike compensation is agreed

As postgraduates, we are in a stronger position than most students as we pay our tuition fees directly. We can both withhold the final tuition fee instalment until an agreement is reached, and pursue formal complaints, with the option to refer each individual complaint to the Ombudsman service should your university not resolve the matter to your satisfaction. Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has repeated yesterday he expects all universities to compensate students, but Manchester are among the majority, as yet, refusing to entertain the idea of compensation.


Struggling with Bitcoin transaction fees? How to: purchase Bitcoin and send without fees!

Anyone who regularly uses Bitcoin will have noticed the Bitcoin transaction fees have recently exploded. Every transaction on the Bitcoin network includes a fee, paid to reward the Bitcoin miner that processes the transaction. With Bitcoin’s recent explosion in popularity, the fee to process at Bitcoin transaction within a reasonable time can be £10-£30. Many Bitcoin wallets will allow you to set a lower fee, should you wish, but this often leads to a transaction becoming stranded for weeks before it is confirmed.

Bitcoin Transaction Fees on Bitbargain in December

Bitcoin transaction fees on Bitbargain, 30th December 2017

My preferred Bitcoin supplier has been UK based Bitbargain for many years. However, as you can see above, at present the Bitcoin transaction fee can be over £15. This fluctuates throughout the day based on demand, and in recent weeks the lowest available fee has often been over £20. For smaller transactions, this can mean the fee paid exceeds the value of the transaction.

Not too long ago, this fee would have been a matter of pence. Paying an additional fee of £2-£3 would result in an expedited transaction and confirmations within minutes. Unfortunately at present, this is not the case, and my advice would be to use alternative coins such as Litecoin or Bitcoin Cash in lieu of Bitcoin where possible. These altcoins offer much faster confirmations with negligible fees of a few pence.


A variety of altcoin logos

How to: Change Awesome Miner payout coin from Bitcoin to Litecoin or other Altcoins

Awesome Miner now supports changing the payout cryptocurrency when ‘managed profit switching’ on Zpool, AHashPool, and Hash Refinery. This guide sets out how to set the Awesome Miner payout cryptocurrency in short, simple steps.

MiningPoolHub is slightly different, as you can simply register for an account on their website and change the payout currency by modifying your auto-exchange settings. This avoids the need to peform any of the configuration described here, but also tends to offer lower returns than other pools. As I understand it, recently hacked Nicehash only support BTC payouts at present.

Typically, these mining pools will default to paying out in Bitcoin, however, many now wish to use an alternative coin to spread their investments, or simply avoid the massive Bitcoin fees and transaction processing times.

It’s always been possible to set the Awesome Miner payout currency by appending the command sent to the mining software with a short code such as ‘c=LTC’, but this wasn’t easy to implement when managing your operation though Awesome Miner.


Awesome Miner

Crypto Mining: Why haven’t I been doing this all along?

For years, I’d dismissed the suggestion that I should start mining ‘bitcoins’ (read: altcoins) as something that wasn’t worth the effort. I was under the misconception that it would require significant effort to stay on top of which coins were most profitable altcoins, and expected it would be difficult to exchange niche coins for useful currency. There was also the perceived risk that whatever most profitable altcoins I’d spent weeks mining could collapse in value, leaving me with nothing.

Meanwhile, I’d be knackering my expensive GTX 1080 by constantly running it at 100% load, whilst driving up my electric bill.

It turns out, the crypto-mining game is way ahead of me on this. There is no shortage of mining pools that, combined with the right software, allow you to always mine the most profitable altcoins, and have them auto-exchange to Bitcoin, Litecoin, or a cryptocurrency of your choice.